Saturday June 19 represents an end to a week of head-scratchers. Logic has taken a pummeling in recent times, and the way our nation has handled The Big Spill and our recovery from the Great Recession is par for that course. It is the very notion of a two-party system, a notion not enshrined in any of our founding documents or subsequent laws, that continues to distort our discourse and derail our problem-solving.
To wit; our response to the disaster in the Gulf. By definition, the failure of the blowout preventer valve and the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon are engineering failures. They are the result of poor industrial process, misdirected corporate culture, and individual failure. Much like a plane crash, disasters like those in the Gulf and the Upper Big Branch Mine are the result of a series of small failures, often encouraged or allowed to happen by a failure of public and private regulatory regimes. The failure chains themselves are apolitical; regulators could vote Republican, and oil-workers could vote Democrat; it makes no difference to the chain. But in our two party system, the assignment of blame takes precedence over all else.
The reaction to tragedy or failure is again, a matter outside the realm of politics. The Administration of George W. Bush botched the reaction to Katrina, not because he was Republican, but because it was his habit to appoint on the basis of political loyalty rather than professional accomplishment. The appointees at the top of FEMA were completely unprepared for the task at hand, and so Katrina’s tragedy was magnified. But it is important to note that had his response been perfect, the loss of life would still have been great, and the property loss would have been unchanged. President Obama’s response to The Big Spill has been similarly, and unfairly, compared to Katrina. Federal action plans were immediately put into action, and were sufficient for any known oil spill scenario. Critics of the President have yet to point to anything that could have been done differently, anything that is, accept for the exercise of tighter regulation prior to the disaster.
And that, friends, is the great contradiction of the Spill. The only action that the Federal Government could have taken, was a preventative action. Those who are most critical of the President are the very same individuals who have fought preventative action the most aggressively. Now, as Republicans try to inflict political damage on the President, and as Democrats try to use the disaster as leverage to pass a climate bill, no one is left to advocate for real problem-solving. The President tried to turn the discourse to problem solving in his national speech, a speech devoid of any attacks on the other party. For his trouble, the national media eviscerated the President and laughed off what they, collectively, described as a non-plan. Sadly, some Republicans are now using the centerpiece of the President’s plan, the $20 billion escrow fund set up by B.P., as some sort of political hit-piece. It has been described as a “shakedown”, as “unconstitutional and illegal”, and it has been apologized for.
I can’t understand the reaction to this crisis, either by liberals or conservatives. But the calculus got even harder this week, when the Senate refused to expand jobless benefits and take other steps to further the economic recovery. Senators who ought to know better, continue to buy into the rhetoric of Wall Street hucksters and their sham “debt crisis”. As if we have not already paid enough to the losers on the Street, we continue to take their advice. It is the goof of all time folks; I have conservative friends, some of whom pay heed to the possible “threat” of a “new world order”, listening to the Chinese and the I.M.F. when they prognosticate U.S. financial doom. The Chinese and the I.M.F. hold no markers over us friends. We provide much of the funding for the I.M.F., and the Chinese can’t risk damaging our economy or our dollar. Our communist friends from Asia are utterly dependent on the U.S. marketplace and its strong dollar to purchase a huge share of Chinese exports.
Some of the contradictions of late can be ascribed to simple emotional response. We are angry that the fishing and tourism of the Gulf Of Mexico may have been permanently destroyed. We are humiliated by the inability of our nation’s best and brightest to find a solution to the river of oil flowing into the Gulf. And we see our nation’s debt in the context of our own household difficulties. So many of us have seen our dreams destroyed; so many of us have lost our livelihoods and our homes. We know our struggle, while we can only guess at the scope of our nation’s finances. These emotional responses must, at some point, be balanced by reason.
It is up to the citizens to think through the problems, discuss the solutions, and then demand the application of those solutions by our representatives in Washington. The politicians, it seems, are regressing to childhood. Senators and Congress persons hurl insults, trade profanity, and pick sides in some D.C. version of a dodge-ball game. They have abandoned mature discussion for playground antics; someone’s father should go down there and administer some bipartisan whuppins. In the meantime, it is up to us to figure out the answers. Unfortunately, that means learning some basic economics (I know, I know), and paying a more detailed attention to the news. We will, I hope, get through this mess. Hopefully though, the oil will stop flowing first.
The Rational Middle is listening…